Odo of Bayeux At War: Linking The Bayeux Tapestry And “The Song Of Roland”

Jameson, Carl
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University of Delaware
In 1066 England was conquered by Duke William of Normandy, and during the next ten years a magnificent work of art was created to glorify the conquest: the Bayeux Tapestry. Curiously, although William’s brother Bishop Odo of Bayeux is scarcely mentioned by the chroniclers who recorded the events of the Norman Conquest, the Tapestry features him in a leading role. This can be explained by the fact that Odo was almost certainly the Tapestry’s sponsor, but a more intriguing possibility arises when examining the contemporary great work The Song of Roland. In its epic verses the tale of Charlemagne’s Spanish campaign in 778 is magnified into a world-spanning struggle between the forces of Christianity and Islam, and in the midst of it all is a character who bears remarkable resemblance to Odo in the Tapestry: Archbishop Turpin of Rheims. Given Turpin’s legendary status, Odo could have masterminded his image in the Tapestry to liken himself to the archbishop, enhancing his prestige far more extensively while legitimizing his warlike tendencies in the eyes of his contemporaries by endowing himself with the image of a holy warrior. This thesis examines the links between Bishop Odo, the Tapestry, and The Song of Roland, using the evidence of the two primary sources themselves, other contemporary written sources, and a wealth of modern material. Once such a connection are established, it proves valuable to examine the impact of the three subjects in the context of the growing crusading movement at the end of the eleventh century. Odo himself set out on the First Crusade, and as it shall be seen, the events of his later life give further evidence to the idea that he modeled himself after Archbishop Turpin.